Experts share best practices for taking organizations from poisonous to positive.
If you or your colleagues dread going to work, you’re not alone. In at least one survey, 25% of respondents say that a toxic work environment is a serious problem and causes more lost productivity than distractions, “lazy” colleagues, poor managers, and meetings. You could have a toxic workplace and not even realize it; but the good news is that you can take your organization from poisonous to positive. Read on for signs of a toxic workplace and what top executives say you can do to build lasting change.
You may not define your workplace as being toxic, but you or your colleagues have probably seen or experienced the signs:
· People gleefully use peer pressure to hold others back. By saying things like, “You shouldn’t work so hard. You make the rest of us look bad,” poor employees try to discourage others from succeeding. They may tell you that your ideas are stupid or unrealistic and pressure you not to share them with others.
· Accomplishments or decisions at meetings are dismissed or revised. Ever come out of a meeting feeling empowered after making some important decisions, then afterwards management or other team members refuse to act on them or insist on taking another direction? Or perhaps they pay lip service to the decisions or consensus while ignoring them or mocking them. This is the height of toxic behavior and has no place in a productive workplace.
· People shrug off bad behavior. A manager or other employee, usually a high performer or person with special abilities, treats others poorly, is rude, and shows little respect for coworkers. Yet concerns or complaints fall on deaf ears: “That’s just Bob. You know what he’s like.” This situation is exacerbated when “Bob” gets away with the bad behavior while others are disciplined or even fired for similar actions.
· People rest on their laurels. They slack off or they expect others to give them special treatment because they won an award, implemented a successful new program, recently got a promotion, etc.
· “That’s not my job” is a popular mantra. Instead of jumping in to help others, people beg off and make excuses for why they can’t provide support or assistance.
· Gossip and griping are common. Employees may actually assume that others are talking about them behind their back, and people may share personal information or rumors about others on a regular basis.
· People believe their seniority or experience gives them the right to do and say whatever they want, such as bossing others around or always taking the best shifts.
· People take credit for others’ work and blame others for their failings or mistakes. Imagine working overtime on a special project, only to have a manager take full credit for it in front of the board. Or consider the reverse. A project goes well over budget or schedule because the lead person kept changing direction or insisting on redoing others’ work; then he or she blames the team for the overages or late delivery.
Healthcare executives suggest a number of ways to detoxify the workplace:
1. Set clear goals. In a recent article in InFront, we shared a survey showing that unclear goals are strongly linked to employee stress and burnout; so it’s not surprising that one of the top suggestions from the experts is to set clear goals. Clearly defined and realistic expectations are key to employee buy-in, satisfaction, and productivity. Set specific, obtainable goals, and work with employees to revise them over time as necessary and appropriate.
2. Create a culture where it’s safe to share ideas. Transparent, open communication minimizes the opportunity for toxic rumors or gossip to spread; and such talk is liable to be squashed before it gain traction. When employees feel safe to share ideas, suggestions, constructive criticism, and feedback, it creates a healthier, more positive workplace.
3. Seek input from others. Even if you think (or know) that you’re doing a good job and doing your part to create a positive workspace, ask others what you can do better. Listen, be open, and follow through.
4. Identify the signs and causes of toxicity. Survey or otherwise seek input from employees about the signs of toxicity (listed above) in your own workplace. Find out where workers see problems and seek their feedback on how to solve them.
5. Employ innovative staffing models. These should include a clear focus on person-centered care plus elements such as consistent staffing, opportunities for advancement and continuing education, ongoing skills development, fair/competitive wages, and staff-driven rewards and recognition programs.
6. Establish and maintain peer coaching programs. These can help employees bond and use strengths and weaknesses for personal growth and team building.
7. Boost communication. Look for opportunities to increase the time staff have to work directly with patients/residents. Offer opportunities for training or peer feedback for those who have problems with issues such as discussing end-of-life issues or responding to complaints.
8. Empower HR. It is important for C-suiters and other execs and managers to see HR as a partner. This means providing HR with tools (including technology) necessary to be effective and working together to meet organizational goals, resolve workforce-related problems, and hire and retain good people.
9. Re-evaluate benefits. Consider giving employees more control over their choice of benefits. This may involve different deductibles, a menu of benefits that employees can pick and choose from, an individual benefit allowance, and the technology necessary to manage all of this.
10. Be aware of behaviors. Spend the time and money to educate employees at all levels about civility. If you notice instances of rudeness, disrespect, gossiping, or backstabbing, work with HR to address it appropriately. Watch your own behavior as well, and think twice before you speak or act, especially in stressful or tense situations.